2016’s Best Gift Cards: Find The Best Deal – WalletHub
Gift cards are supposed to make gift-giving simpler, reducing the need to worry about the recipient’s tastes and what specific items he or she might already have. But not all gift cards are created equal, which might help explain why nearly $1 billion in value went unused in 2015, despite gift cards being the most popular type of present for the ninth consecutive year.
So in the interest of helping you find the best gift cards for any occasion – whether a birthday, holiday, graduation, etc. – we compared the 100 most popular options across five major categories: 1) card popularity; 2) average discount; 3) average resale value; 4) retailer appeal; and 5) shipping fees. Using our proprietary WalletHub Score to grade each card in these respects, we pared down the list to the 20 Best Gift Cards of 2016, which you can learn more about below.
2016’s Best Gift Cards
|Gift Card||WalletHub Score||Shipping Fee||Average Discount||Resale Value ($100 gift card)||
Gift Card Popularity
(rank in top 100)
|Retailer Rating (out of 5)|
|Netflix Gift Card||80||$0||90.00%||$83.80||9th||3.44|
|Sephora Gift card||75||$0||85.00%||$74.40||11th||3.19|
|Amazon Gift Card||70||$0||92.00%||$77.50||1st||3.54|
|eBay Gift Card||70||$0||89.00%||$75.70||10th||2.50|
|Victoria’s Secret Gift Card||70||$0||83.50%||$70.21||12th||2.70|
|Walmart Gift Card||65||$0||96.50%||$83.94||5th||2.17|
|Fandango Gift Card||65||$0||80.00%||$70.94||13th||1.20|
|Costco Gift Card||60||$0||95.00%||$82.67||15th||2.17|
|Target Gift Card||60||$0||96.50%||$81.88||7th||2.95|
|Home Depot Gift Card||60||$0||95.00%||$80.00||18th||3.23|
|Best Buy Gift Card||55||$0||93.00%||$83.12||19th||2.47|
|Starbucks Gift Card||55||$0||92.00%||$73.85||6th||2.39|
|GameStop Gift Card||55||$0||88.00%||$75.68||24th||1.78|
|Apple Store Gift Card||50||$0||95.00%||$81.67||38th||2.25|
|Disney Gift Card||50||$0||90.00%||$72.50||24th||1.52|
|McDonald’s Gift Card||50||$0||93.00%||$71.28||10th||1.70|
|Nordstrom Gift Card||50||$0||91.00%||$80.80||31st||2.72|
|Ikea Gift Card||45||$0||94.00%||$74.22||23rd||2.83|
|Macy's Gift Card||45||$0||92.00%||$74.79||20th||2.75|
|Lowe’s Gift Card||45||$0||90.50%||$76.25||26th||2.42|
Tips For Getting The Best Gift Card
Avoid Card-Network Gift Cards: Gift cards from Visa, MasterCard and Discover might seem like they’re as good as cash, since they can be used anywhere, but they’re actually quite inferior. While retailers make money immediately when one of their gift cards gets purchased, these card-network gift cards make money from fees. There’s generally a fee of at least $3.95 when you purchase such a gift card, followed by a $2.50 monthly inactivity fee if the card isn’t used for 12 consecutive months.
So if you want the versatility of cash, why not just use cash instead? It will certainly be cheaper. That’s why we didn’t include any card-network gift cards in our list of the year’s best gift cards.
Don’t Confuse Gift Cards & Prepaid Cards: Despite often being displayed next to each other in stores, gift cards and prepaid cards are very different animals. Gift cards are designed to be used only until the original balance is gone. Prepaid cards, on the other hand, are reloadable and designed to serve the same purpose as a checking account with a debit card.
Prepaid cards also have a lot of different fees associated with them, so giving one to someone instead of a gift card could result in the recipient not getting as much value as you intended. In fact, the average prepaid card has 10 separate fees, according to our latest Prepaid Card Report, and the wrong prepaid card could cost an individual up to $311 per year if used incorrectly
- Resale Is Always An Option: If you don’t end up using a particular gift card or the recipient doesn’t like it, you’re not out of luck. Rather, you can sell it on a gift card exchange or simply swap gift cards with a friend or family member. To learn more about these options, check out our editors’ picks for the year’s best gift card exchanges.
- When In Doubt, Just Give Cash: Cold, hard cash might seem a bit less personal than a gift card, but it completely eliminates guess work from the equation and is the most versatile gift anyone can give. Plus, you might be able to give your recipient more value without shipping fees or shopping trips to worry about.
To identify the year’s best gift cards, WalletHub compared the cards affiliated with the country’s 100 largest retailers in five categories that speak to their appeal and overall value. Each gift card was scored on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing the best option. Below, you can find the grading rubric that we used to calculate these overall WalletHub Scores.
Gift Card Popularity (30 points max): We used the number of people who search for each gift card online as a proxy for its popularity.
- 30 points: Ranks 1 to 5
- 25 points: Ranks 6 to 10
- 20 points: Ranks 11 to 15
- 15 points: Ranks 16 to 25
- 10 points: Ranks 26 to 50
- 5 points: Ranks 51 to 75
- 0 points: Ranks 76+
Average Discount (30 points max): We checked the major gift card exchanges to see what kind of discount buyers can get on each card.
- 30 points: 15.00%+
- 20 points: 10.00% to 14.99%
- 10 points: 5.00% to 9.99%
- 5 points: 2.00% to 4.99%
- 0 points: < 2.00%
Average Resale Value (20 points): To account for the potential that you don’t end up using a gift card that you purchase or receive, we determined how much a seller could get for a $100 gift card from each retailer on the major gift card exchanges.
- 20 points: $80.00+
- 15 points: $75.00 to $79.99
- 10 points: $70.00 to $74.99
- 5 points: $60.00 to $69.99
- 0 points: < $60.00
Retailer Rating (15 points): The customer experience at a given retailer obviously affects the intrinsic value of its gift cards. So we obtained user ratings for each retailer from a number of popular review sites and averaged them to provide a broad sense of how well –liked each is.
- 15 points: 4.0 to 5.0
- 10 points: 3.0 to 3.9
- 5 points: 2.0 to 2.9
- 0 points: < 2.0
Shipping Fees (5 points): Any amount spent on shipping a physical gift card reduces the amount you can allocate to the gift itself and eats away at any discount you were able to obtain.
- 5 points: No fees
- 0 points: Fees
Image: adekvat / iStock.